It had not been easy. If there had been any inkling of where her words would take her through the years, she would have chosen to keep them unsaid. Still, once done is never undone. She looked down at the gold mourning brooch in her lap that a few minutes earlier she had removed from her chest. It lay open, revealing the tiny lock of brown hair nestled on creamy velvet behind the bright crystal, a small piece of paper was curled and folded in the back. She did not have to pull it out to remember the words written there in his hand. Victo dolore. The sunlight shot a painful glare at her off of the surface. She winced and shut the jewel. Let everyone think he was dead. It was easier that way.
She focused her gaze on the scenery rolling past her through the window. Those distant, cold, snow capped mountains on the horizon were as far out of her reach as he was. The smell of the smoke from the engine permeated the air. Fortunately she had found a seat near the back of the train so that none of the ashes obscured her view. Looking down at her left breast, she again pinned the brooch to the fabric there.
In this car there were only a handful of people. There was an elderly fellow in the back corner. His head laid back, toothless mouth wide open, eyes closed…napping she hoped. His wispy hair waved at her in the breeze from the cracked window to his right. Dead to the world, wasn’t he? A father sat with his young daughter several seats ahead, their backs to her. The red headed youngster must have been five or six, precocious and demanding as she knew she had been herself at that age. Her indulgent father sat with his head bent over a storybook, intent on keeping her entertained. There was a middle aged woman in a smart, dark brown traveling suit seated just ahead to her right, a deep red valise clutched tightly in her lap. She had a large, wide brimmed straw hat atop her mostly grayed hair with bright red flowers decorating the rim and a brown ribbon tied beneath her chin into a large bow. There was an air of discomfort about her as she sat rigidly across the seat from her male companion. The hat succeeded in hiding the eyes, but wisps of raven hair peeked out now and again, mixed with the strands of silver. It was with a pang that she remembered the increasingly gray strands in her own incredibly straight hair, at this moment piled precariously upon her own head with its new wrinkles around the eyes and the fading lips.
Closing her eyes, she struggled to force the image of herself in the mirror this morning from her mind and tried to remember what she had looked like to a man when she had been sixteen. The right corset, the right dress in the right color, candlelight…she had no doubt that she had been a vision at one time. Not that she had understood her power at that age. It had only mystified her back then, before life had taken over as her tutor. If only she had not squandered so much of herself then.
The sunlight beat in through the window glass, absorbed by the sleeve of her traveling cloak, sending warm shivers up her spine. The steady rocking of the train carriage began to lull her into a dark stupor behind the scarlet glow of her closed eyelids.
“Pardon me, madam,” a voice hesitated as she felt a light touch on her shoulder. She groaned inwardly, not wishing to stir from her reverie, and decided to pretend sleep.
“Madame, excuse me!” This time she felt a light shake at her shoulder. Realizing the voice was not going to go away, she opened one eye and looked up. It was the ticket taker, a short, balding man with a red nose and rather pudgy belly. The buttons at his waistcoat strained against his girth. She sat up straighter.
“Do you have your ticket?”
“Certainly. Just a moment.” She leaned over to the seat next to her and rummaged through her things until she found the ticket and passed it over to the conductor.
He looked it over, looked at her, raised a brow. “Traveling alone?”
“Yes.” She stared back at him steadily, evenly, daring him to say something further.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he punched the ticket and passed it back to her.
“For what?” She regretted the bewilderment in her voice immediately as he pointed to the large black brooch that she wore. In gold lettering across the face was the word RECUERDO. “Oh.” She took her gaze back down to the gloved hands at her lap. He paused a moment as if he intended to say more, then shoved the tickets back into her hands and moved down the aisle to the father and his daughter.
She closed her eyes again but this time could not sleep. She could hear the conductor rouse the elderly man in the corner and then speak a few words softly to the woman across the aisle. Eventually, he left the car. She could feel the ticket in her hands. Edinburgh. The man no doubt was wondering what a woman was doing traveling by herself that distance, widowed or not. At least he had had the tact not to actually say anything or ask further questions. She knew that her acquired British accent stood out in this country.
Edinburgh. What had drawn her there in first place? The history? There had been a sense in the darkness and filth of the alleyways and cobbled streets that history had happened here, over and over again. The light was still shining through the ages, through the muddy slush of day old snow that accumulated in the gutters, a warmth that reached through the bone chilling cold of winter days in Scotland. A romantic notion, perhaps. The grimy faces of the waifs on the street corners could, given enough time, become the faces of the cure for consumption or some great economical or political mastermind. It had happened there before and would happen again. Brilliance had for centuries walked with purpose within those city walls.
It was also where she had met him. It was that strange, intoxicating mixture of joy and pain that drew her back to Edinburgh now. If I can make myself hurt enough, can’t I stop feeling it? Like a burn. If it is deep enough, it ceases to ache. I will hold a torch to it until it dies or I cease to feel.
The brooch was weighty on her dress. She could barely remember his face now. So many details lost. Some things remained vivid still, like the warmth that flooded her arm when it brushed against his coat sleeve or the flutter that stretched from the base of her spine to the back of her neck when his gaze rested on her. She could remember the strength of his arms around her standing alone in the trees, the smell of him, the taste of him. So few moments, really, to have consumed so much of her life to this point, yet they were moments that had defined her entire future.